What does it mean to be on the left today?

Uche Okeke Ana Mmuo 1961


Changes in the progressive agenda and the definition of its demands

What is it like to be on the left? At the end of the 16th century, the question was answered with a limited set of demands – the end of the exhausting workday (1914 hours) for women and children; freedom of expression and organization; and universalization of suffrage. Legally, minimal democracy requires free, universal, secret, adult and equal suffrage; the classic civil liberties of speech, conscience, assembly, association and press; and guarantees against arrest without trial. By this parameter democracy only reached four nations before 1893: New Zealand (1903), Australia (1906), Finland (1913) and Norway (XNUMX). Democracy is not a gift from heaven. It charges the heavy coin of dignity in the midst of conflicts, challenge to authority, assumption of courageous gestures, ethical ordeal, violent confrontations and general crises in which the current political and social order breaks down.

One hundred years later, the progressive agenda included demands concerning the preservation of the environment and biodiversity; racial and gender equality; autonomy in choosing sexuality (LGBTQIA+); state public policies to combat inequalities; and the improvement of representative democracy through mechanisms of direct citizen participation. “Feminism was arguably the most important of these emerging movements, forcing a complete reassessment of all that politics encompasses. But also radical ecology, linking popular activism, community experimentation and extra-parliamentary mobilization in unexpected ways. Alternative ways of living have conquered imaginations and signs of a new political presence”, emphasizes Geoff Eley in Forging Democracy: A History of the Left in Europe, 1850-2000 (Perseu Abramo Foundation). Time passed, and the answer gained greater complexity and breadth. The colonialist excrescence, racism, became inseparable from the democratizing convergence.

This is no small matter, under the waning moon of neoliberalism's hegemony, in which the main subject in the news refers to “privatizations, fiscal austerity and the spending ceiling”, according to the interests of finance. Historically, the left's program has been expansive, which has made democracy “a cumulative process of civilizational values”. The definition recovers Claude Lefort's thesis, in The Democratic Invention (Autêntica), on a system with a democratic and participatory effect, which anticipates support in a legal framework and is perceived as a movement that feeds back on egalitarian vectors – not on mere idiosyncrasies and hollow guesses. The left goes hand in hand with democracy.

On the other hand, the neoliberal-media conception restricts democracy to the dissemination of opinions, regardless of the degree of gross prejudices they carry and convey. Such a view encourages vain and reactive polemics in society as an “each person's right”. Namely, the right to be abject on the catwalk without blushing. It confuses public freedom with a private latrine to increase ratings and revenue. This is one of the reasons for the growth of far-right populism, the denialist spread in the pandemic and the favorable environment for fake news on the social networks. In misgovernments that attack acquired social and labor rights, what seemed so solid melts into thin air. A silent dispute in the wings of the stage, behind the ideological curtains that separate the left from the right, is waged between Modernity and Traditionalism with a fencing of values.


The unfinished promises of Modernity

Charles Baudelaire describes the modern as the domain of ephemerality. He exemplifies with the fashion that designates unpredictability (dandy, affected). “Fashion and the modern are linked in time and in the instant, mysteriously relegated to the eternal”. Eureka. With that the mundane and the ephemeral imprinted on everyday life the importance that they did not previously have. “Mystique” and liberation ceased to be tenants of eternity. It was imperative to appreciate the pieces inscribed in the historic mosaic, although incomplete. The interruption of the redemptive dream should not eclipse the fleeting and intense episodes on the barricades. Anyone who wants to lament the dissolution of the aura in the age of technical reproducibility of the work of art, let him do so. Nevertheless, there will be reason to vibrate as in a goal with the irreducible democratization of the One.

With the failure of the 1848 wave of revolutions on the Old Continent, the question was no longer about reducing the distance between nature and humanity, the private and the public, the particular and the general, everyday life and the State. But in deepening the contradictions to implode the standards of the bourgeoisie in philosophy, in the arts, in customs, in morals. Until the dawn of a full-blown insurgency. Surrealism heard the call for the uprising of the spirit against reality. The frustrated (possible) transformation in the real gave way to the imaginary over the (impossible) ideal transformation. “Imagination to power”, celebrated the rebels of 1968.

The sign of “cursed” marked the author of The evil flowers, giving rise to the adjective that stigmatizes social groups, street corners, poetry notebooks. The choreography and discography of rock music bands psychedelic (Os Mutantes, São Paulo) and hard (Kiss, New York) are soulful echoes of the Baudelairean rebellion. For brutes, make-up is a superfluous artifice. For the sensitive, it accentuates the similarity of the human with the beautiful in a statue. If the colorful kaleidoscope of subversion does not change the world, it re-enchants life.

Modernity is not limited to Enlightenment values ​​and the supremacy of knowledge and science over obscurantism and curandorism. Equally, it does not end with flashes of creativity. Modernity contains the legacy of what is yet to come, in practice, of the emblematic and unfinished Promethean triad: freedom, equality, solidarity. For some thinkers (Habermas, Touraine), this makes the “postmodern” sign premature, which will have to wait for the fulfillment of the three modernizing promises to present itself. There are many conflicts yet to erupt for the full realization of the commitments set out.

Modernism is best understood from the perspective of dialectical tensions that political-philosophical Traditionalism seeks to suffocate with the return to pre-modern conservatism. That is, to the epic Christian Crusades to retake the Holy Land and Jerusalem, militarily. A route reconfigured by the backwardness that expands in Western Europe and Latin America, to block the advances of civilization. The train of history moves, romantically, towards the future as the socialists want, or towards the past as the reactionaries, racists, misogynists, lgbtphobes and the clueless want. Everyone chooses their place on the departing train. There is room for “all”. Next station: Fora Bolsonaro.


The will to power of the extreme right

The extreme right does not tolerate “political correctness” to stop acts of language aimed at humiliation, where the weak have no place. Sometimes he prefers Silence (from the doorman of the villa), sometimes the Scream (from militias) to that which rebalances dissent: the Word. Without which, democracy based on passwords to institutionalize conflicts is unfeasible. It turns the thread of demagoguery. Politics is war by different methods, if the conflicting poles fit the argument. Institutionalization occurs when workers' strikes are legalized, and unions and employers are given the opportunity to sit around a table to negotiate and improve labor relations. Or when parties with a capitalist overcoming program agree to participate in elections, abide by the rules of the game and the balance of the ballot boxes.

“The world is upset”, right-wing extremists commented with apprehension at the turn of the XNUMXth century. On a theoretical level, this dismay led to a nihilism that reacts to depression with the Nietzschean impulse of the “will to power”. It culminates in Oswald Spengler's book, The Decline of the West (Zahar), which Joseph Goebbels considered the forerunner of Nationalsozialische Deutsche. Spengler was ostracized by rejecting the myth of racial superiority. However, he remains a strong reference for conservative / traditionalist intellectuals. Pessimism about the future keeps burning the flame of nostalgia for an Era fantasized with a fictitious harmony, linear progress, a theocratic religiosity, an Aryanism of blood and an uncontested sociability.

The specter of nihilism continues to frighten and pay dividends. Psycholinguist Steven Pinker, in The New Enlightenment: In Defense of Reason and Humanism (Companhia das Letras), was in the battle to demonstrate to the skeptics that life, health, prosperity, security, peace, knowledge and happiness are on the rise. The edition of the volume in Portuguese is from 2018. Needless to remember that the text – with the optimism of Pangloss, Voltaire's naive character – was written when the virus outbreak, which wiped out more than 600 hopes in Brazil, had not yet entered into poster. Although the neo-fascist specter was closely prowling both hemispheres, garrisoned by a PowerPoint and Post-Truth.

The first social class that “created wonders greater than the pyramids of Egypt, the Roman aqueducts, the Gothic cathedrals; conducted expeditions which tarnished even the most ancient invasions and Crusades”, thus Marx refers to the bourgeoisie in the famous The Manifest. Since then, the praise has been transmuted into an epitaph thanks to the perversion of nature through the devastation of forests and the invasion of native peoples' lands. Humanity, sad, revered millions of deaths in the pandemic biennium. The private volatized the public. The individual sat in the general bleachers of false consciousness. The everyday was consumed in the malls. The idolatry of money installed and manipulated the false “power for power's sake”.

The right-wing discontinuity elected Trump and Bolsonaro. Misfortune accompanied. It led to a greater concentration of wealth and power. On the other hand, the discontinuity of the left empowers the people as a political subject with participation in instances of deliberations on the directions of society and the State. Without an authentic democratization of democracy, the politicization of politics cannot survive. Nor ethics in politics. Not Republic.


A popular-democratic republicanism

It is unwise to pursue continuity that has been lost. The third way is a chimera, not the magic to retrace the footprints that the wind erased, in the desert of empathy of capital accumulation and authoritarian and/or totalitarian power. Moreover, its feasible political viability would depend on the engagement of the left itself, which it has as its antipode. As in the verses of the Spanish poet Antonio Machado: “On the way down / and on the way back / you see the path that never / you have to step again”. Let's go ahead, walker.

Today, being on the left implies opposing neoliberalism and neofascism, and fighting against the retrograde values ​​of Traditionalism in the long run of history. In the short-lived national situation, it is an invitation to build unity on the left (PT, PSOL, PCdoB, PSB, PDT) in a Party Federation with the aim of enhancing a common confrontation against barbarism, taking advantage of the opportunity that arose with the recent and surprising Political Reform, in Congress. In the international context, it is a push to implement Latin American integration, intensify agreements with Africa and strengthen the grouping of countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) that received the nomenclature created by Goldman's chief economist Sachs, Jim O'Neil, in the study Building Better Global Economics BRICS. The multipolarity of powers along with multilateral relations, with the end of the US economic blockade of Cuba and Venezuela, are essential to raise a democratization of a globalist nature.

Popular-democratic republicanism ensures the “right to have rights”, in the context of the secular State under the siege of the partisanship of religions, in which neo-Pentecostalism has different platforms (TVs, radios, newspapers, magazines, portals, etc.). Juarez Guimarães, in the article The Brazilian Left and Republicanism (Socialist Democracy), identifies in “republicanism updated for the period of capitalism and the (neo)liberal order” the fingerprints of “democratic socialism”. the way to hope emancipation in the utopian Republic, with its feet on the ground. Something that suggests major changes on three levels (economic, political and cultural) "vers la révolution culturelle permanent”, notes Henri Lefebvre with militant boldness, in La Vie Quotidienne dans le Monde Moderne (Idees).

The broadening of the range of flags characteristic of the left, contemporaneously, is not just the sum of awareness in the face of previously repressed postulations of recognition. It has to do with rising inequalities, made worse by the volcanic eruption of conservatism. What is conventionally called the “lost decade” served the slow incubation of underground tensions, in the serpent's egg – neoliberal and neofascist.

“Inequality generates, almost everywhere, growing social tensions. Without constructive political results and an egalitarian and universal perspective, such frustrations feed the growth of identity and nationalist cleavages observed today in almost all regions of the world, in the US and Europe, in India and Brazil, in China and the Middle East”, notes Thomas Piketty, in Capital and Ideology (Intrinsic), in the closing chapter when addressing the “Elements for a participatory socialism in the XNUMXst century”.


The time and place of participatory socialism

“From the moment that it is stated that there is no plausible alternative to the current socioeconomic organization and inequality between classes, it is not surprising that the hope for change turns to the exaltation of borders and identity”. A huge defeat would have matured relevant victories, in the so-called “identitarianism”. History is not a fatality moved by teleology, immune to political struggles and the chance of indeterminism.

“The new hyper-unequal narrative imposed since the 1980s-1990s is not fatal. If, in part, it is a product of history and the communist disaster, it also results from insufficient dissemination of knowledge, from overly rigid disciplinary barriers and from a limited collective appropriation of economic and financial issues, generally left to third parties”, reiterates Piketty. The situation is unsustainable. Hunger spreads. Inequalities border on the absurd in the country: 43,4 million people (20,5% of the population) suffer from moderate food insecurity and 19,1 million (9%) from severe food insecurity. The urban landscape resembles a refugee camp, such is the misery in sight.

“The entire history of unequal regimes shows that, above all, social and political mobilizations and concrete experiences allow for changes in history. History is the product of crises and is never written in a way that was foreseen in books”, concludes the French economist. The books provide ideas that can be used in crises, to get out of them or into them.

The environmental and climate crisis is heading towards the point of irreversibility, putting the existence of life on the planet at risk. This is the greatest proof of the systemic debacle of capitalism. Optimistic projections estimate a century of loneliness to come, no more. Urgency here is not a rhetorical image. It is the raw and undeniable truth. The bourgeoisie on a world scale demonstrates that it has no capacity to curb the destruction, which is then in an accelerated march.

In the wake of republicanism and democratic socialism, the concept of “participatory socialism”" praises the participation and decentralization that marks “the difference between this project and the hypercentralized state socialism implemented in countries belonging to communism in the Soviet version (present, to a large extent, in the Chinese public sector)”. This is the strategic challenge of crooked angels. The tactical challenge is to assemble a party alliance that expands without disfiguring the Lula-lá project. Election is a means intertwined with ends. How far does Oswaldian anthropophagy go in Brazilian politics, in these dark times?

* Luiz Marques is a professor of political science at UFRGS. He was Rio Grande do Sul's state secretary of culture in the Olívio Dutra government.


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